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In the last academic year, 183 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association produced more than 38,000 graduates. The same period saw states certify more than 50,000 new admissions to their bars. Certain lawyers were inducted in more than one state, of course, but the ABA says the influx still left America with upwards of one million practicing attorneys. David Link doesn’t argue that we need more lawyers. But he does claim that we need different lawyers. Which is why Link — a onetime M&A partner at Chicago’s Winston & Strawn who went on to spend much of the last quarter-century as dean of the University of Notre Dame School of Law — is presiding over the renovation of a J.D. factory in Minnesota. Resurrection might be more like it. As the name implies, the University of St. Thomas School of Law is avowedly Catholic. Founded in 1923, but shuttered by the Depression, it is being reborn. The early stages of its reformation (if they’ll pardon the expression) received some media attention, but the school’s official launch Aug. 20 occasioned a new look. The dean says that St. Thomas’ mission is to train a new cadre of lawyers that can effect social change — including within the profession itself. “I do believe there’s been some loss of ethics,” Link says. “By ethics, though, I’m not just talking about professional responsibility. I think the vast majority obey those codes. … I’m talking about the ‘do good’ side of the ‘do good and avoid evil’ construct. That’s where I see the slippage — not that lawyers are doing bad, but that they’re not doing as much good — helping the poor and the homeless, pursuing human rights.” Link’s exhortation goes beyond pro bono commitments, however, and reaches into everyday practice. Peering into the origins of civilization, he sees law as akin to medicine and, yes, religion in its core mandate to provide communities with professional healers — even when dealing with a Fortune 500 contractual dispute: “As one friend of mine put it, we lawyers have gone from being the people who broke up street fights to the surrogate street fighters. We’re ready for the fight too early.” To impart that sensibility, St. Thomas’ curriculum will include more emphasis on natural law than most mainstream schools. But Link claims the place won’t be a seminary. In exploring the jurisprudence on abortion and capital punishment, or the ethical quagmires of client confidentiality in the face of blatant harm, Link concedes that the faculty will spend time on “the moral questions.” But he insists that won’t come at the expense of explaining collateral estoppel or the rule against perpetuities. So there’s a commitment to competence, coupled with a pledge to turn more lawyers’ swords into plowshares. That was the challenge that prompted Link to lead the charge at St. Thomas (with Notre Dame’s blessing) a couple of years back. Richard Schulze, CEO of Best Buy Co. Inc., soon provided the most impressive alms (some $25 million), but other big donors have built a $61 million endowment, plus a separate $30 million fund to build the school’s new edifice in Minneapolis. The 120-plus first-years who had registered as of August (screened not just for decent LSATs but for “a history” of good works as well) started out in temporary digs at the university’s business school, with their own school’s ground to be broken next spring. In the meantime, they’ll have an 80,000-volume library (tomes were donated from a number of firms, including St. Louis’ Bryan Cave and Cleveland’s Squire, Sanders & Dempsey) and a faculty of 11 to put them through the 1L catechism. Having those resources and a credible administration, Link says, meant he had little trouble convincing students that within three years the school would easily satisfy the ABA’s requirements for the “provisional accreditation” — which the ABA itself says would qualify graduates to sit for the bar in any state. Still, aren’t there already a couple of dozen Catholic law schools out there? Not to mention a score of others claiming at least a strain of “faith-based” curricula? True, but Link says that many are “concentrating too much on the reason side without integrating faith and reason.” Demands for control over the school’s mission did slow this campaign. In the 1990s, with all that competition, the law school’s would-be revivalists first sought to merge with an existing school. “But I advised against it,” recalls Link, who was then consulting from his perch at Notre Dame. “I did a lot of corporate mergers when I was in practice. Too often, the fish think they’re going to swim together, gaining sustenance from each other, but the reality is that one fish gets bigger and eats the other.” Maybe that’s why Link decided to become a fisher of lawyers.

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